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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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HHS conscience rule essential for freedom say Catholic healthcare groups

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Medical professionals do not give up their right to conscience protections upon accepting a job, Catholic healthcare organizations have argued in support of new rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In legal briefs filed Aug. 21 on behalf of four non-profit organizations, including the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association, the groups argue that medical professionals should not be forced to perform procedures or refer patients for procedures to which they are morally opposed. 

The cases concern the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule, first announced in May. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights, including a doctor’s right to refuse to participate in abortion or so-called gender reassignment surgery. 

Several suits were filed by state attorneys general against the rule, with California AG Xavier Becerra calling it dangerous to American lives and part of “a war being waged on access to health care across our country.”  

Herrera wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

After the “significant litigation,” HHS announced last month that the rule would not come into effect until November 22. 

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement last July that the rule is simply an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

The briefs were filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the four organizations in the cases City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, and State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. The argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected—beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment,” the submissions argue. 

These conscience rights are “paramount,” they said, no matter what a person’s job may be, and that “decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.” 

Removing conscience rights from medical professionals would force them to sacrifice their “core convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle.

“That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm,” she said. 

Harle said she believes the rule is “constitutionally sound” as well as “consistent with related federal laws.” 

ADF also observed that Congress has passed multiple laws, with the support of both major political parties, that protect health care professionals from being forced to violate their consciences. These protections, however, are not often supported on the state level--as evidenced by the lawsuits and how 13 state attorneys general previously denounced conscience protection regulations. 

Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement that the rule was “commonsense” and simply worked to enforce existing conscience protections. 

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said Theriot. 

“The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection.”

New West Virginia bishop addresses scandals head-on at installation Mass

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 18:43

Wheeling, W.V., Aug 23, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After nearly a year without a bishop, due to the scandal-ridden former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia has a new shepherd, who was installed at a Mass yesterday on the feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Hundreds of Catholics, hopeful for a fresh start, came from throughout the diocese to fill the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling for the 2+ hour Mass and glimpse their new leader, Bishop Mark Brennan. Thousands more tuned in to the event via a Facebook live stream posted by the diocese.

“It's a new beginning. We hope it's a new beginning,” Joe Herrick, a Catholic who attended the Mass, told a local Fox News affiliate.

“We're very hopeful for the future. I'm really praying Bishop Brennan will be able to lead us and mend the flock together so we can be one.”

Brennan, who gave the homily, did not hesitate to address the tumultuous year that both the diocese and the universal Church have experienced.

“My friends, the ‘people walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in the land of gloom’. Those words of Isaiah, referring to enemy armies oppressing the kingdom of Israel, are an apt description for how many Catholics in this country have felt over the past year and how many West Virginia Catholics have felt for even longer,” Brennan said on Thursday, Aug. 22 at his installation Mass.

While he did not specifically name Bransfield, Brennan spoke of the diocese’s “painful past” and the “crisis” it now faces as a result of the scandals.

“The scandals we have learned about have caused painful disappointment, confusion, anger and distrust of Church leaders,” he said.

In September 2018, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston while an investigation was launched regarding allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against him. Archbishop William E. Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese in the interim.

Bransfield, who had been bishop of the diocese since 2004, reportedly sexually harassed, assaulted and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time there. He is also reported to have used diocesan funds to make large financial gifts to other bishops and to pay for personal luxuries. According to a report from the Washington Post, concerns about Bransfield’s finances were raised as early as 2012 and were evidently ignored for years by some bishops who were the recipients of these gifts.

In July 2019, after assessing the investigation into Bransfield by Lori, the Vatican announced sanctions against Bransfield, including that he is no longer allowed to participate in public Masses or to live within his former diocese. He is also expected to “make personal amends” for his wrongs, Pope Francis said in a communique.

“Behavior has consequences, and there are consequences to bad behavior in the past that will have to be dealt with,” Brennan said in his homily. “That is one of my responsibilities and I assure you that I will meet it.”

But still, there is hope, the new bishop added. “...Isaiah’s message to an oppressed people does not end in the darkness. Hear it again: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone,’” he said.

“My friends, it takes no humility on my part to admit that I am not the light,” Brennan said, provoking laughter from the congregation. Instead, he said, it is the light of Christ that will lead the diocese out of these “dark times” and into a future of hope.

“The light of Christ beckons us to move now from the painful past toward him, not in denial but in confidence that the Lord will supply us with the wisdom and strength to do things better, to live our faith with greater integrity and to reflect more brightly, as far as our human weakness and limitations will permit, his own enduring light,” he said.

Brennan acknowledged numerous groups of people whom he said have already been lights in the darkness, including parents who continue to catechize their children, Catholic school and religious education teachers who do the same, parish priests who faithfully administer the sacraments, as well as diocesan chancery workers and faithful young people.

“Christ’s light has been shining in the darkness through all of them and, as St. John says in his Gospel, the darkness has not overcome it. I thank God for these faithful West Virginia Catholics,” he said.

The scandals may also have driven some people away from the Church, Brennan said, but he encouraged Catholics in the diocese to look to their roots circa the Civil War - when West Virginia seceded from Virginia in order to remain in the Union - for inspiration to remain united in faith.

“When the dark clouds of secession were rolling over the State of Virginia in the spring of 1861, the people of these western mountains chose to remain in the United States of America. They would not break their unity with Ohio and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. They petitioned Congress to admit them as the State of West Virginia, which Congress did in 1863,” he said.

“Many of their sons—the ancestors of some here present — fought to maintain the integrity of the Union.”

He urged Catholics of today to fight for that same unity in the Church.

“Unity with one another and with God is what the Lord wants for us— and what, in our hearts, we truly desire,” he said.

“One man told me not long ago that he stopped going to Mass in his parish because of the recent scandals but then he asked himself: who was he helping by doing that? No one. Who was he hurting? Himself. He has since returned to Mass, still eager to see the Church address its failings and bring about lasting reform but conscious that walking away doesn’t help,” he added.

“As Simon Peter said to the Lord when some disciples were leaving Jesus because of hard teachings, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’” The Blessed Virgin Mary is another example of someone who said “yes” to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, Brennan said.

“...like Mary, we can let God fulfill his purpose in us and not let the darkness return to cover the earth. We can right the wrongs of the past and move on to make Christ known, helping our neighbor in need and remaining united in faith and love,” he said.

“West Virginia Catholics: cherish your faith and the holy Church that has nurtured it,” he added.

“Make Mary’s ‘yes’ to God your own and work with me and your brothers and sisters to let the light of Christ be a light brightly visible in the mountains and valleys, the city streets and country roads of this beautiful part of God’s creation: West Virginia.”

Cincinnati Catholic raised 'red flags' about priest over a year before rape indictment

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:45

Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 23, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- A Cincinnati news station is reporting on the contents of a letter, sent to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer in August 2018, accusing them of ignoring “red flags” related to a priest now indicted on nine counts of rape.

"What are we to do with these 'red flags' about Father [Geoff] Drew?" the parishioner wrote, addressing auxiliary Bishop Binzer.

"They were brought to your attention on many occasions and your response was to place Fr. Drew in a parish with the largest Catholic grade school in the state! I can't be the only one to see the irony in this."

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested Aug. 19 on allegations dating back 20 years, which concern Drew’s time as music minister at St. Jude parish, prior to his ordination as a priest. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

The priest entered a “not guilty” plea at his Aug. 21 arraignment.

Because she considers the priest a flight risk, Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz set Drew’s bond at $5 million. He remains incarcerated.

Local news station WCPO reported that in the letter in question, a longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish told Schnurr he had failed to deliver on his promise of being "unequivocally committed" to children and that the church had ignored "red flags" about Father Drew.

WCPO reported that the author of the letter is a mother of three children who attended St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, where Drew was pastor from 2009 to mid-2018.

CNA reported earlier this month that complaints were raised to at least one archdiocesan official about Drew’s inappropriate behavior with teenage and pre-teenage boys as early as 2013. Complaints were made to auxiliary bishop Joseph Binzer, who is the archdiocesan vicar general, in 2013 and 2015.

Binzer referred the complaints to law enforcement, who found no evidence of criminal activity. Binzer did not, however, notify the archdiocesan personnel board or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr about the multiple complaints he had received against Drew. The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese. As head of priest personnel, Bishop Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

Archbishop Schnurr released a public letter Aug. 17, 2018, following the announcement of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which detailed hundreds of cases of historical clerical sexual abuse. Schnurr wrote that there were no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and that the archdiocese is “committed to transparency."

Schnurr’s letter— as well as Drew’s successful transfer— prompted the St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner to write hers, WCPO reported.

The archdiocese referred the letter to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, which determined that Drew’s behavior was inappropriate but not criminal, WCPO reported.

One month after Drew’s arrival at his new parish, a parishioner at his previous church resubmitted a 2015 complaint made about the priest. The complaint was again reported to Butler County officials, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

The priest was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned to meet regularly with a “monitor,” but school faculty and administration were not told about these restrictions, or the reasons for them.

The archdiocese removed Drew from ministry last month, after allegations surfaced that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old boy. The archdiocese then confirmed a history of similar allegations against Drew.

Drew worked as music minister at the parish of St. Jude in Bridgetown, Ohio, from 1984-1999. During that time he was also a music teacher at Elder High School until 1991. He entered seminary in 1999, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2004.

The archdiocesan statement, issued Aug. 19, emphasized that neither the archdiocese, nor Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr were aware of the rape allegations at the time of Drew’s removal last month.

Despite the long history of allegations made against the priest, Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Mike Schafer told local reporters that archdiocesan officials were “stunned” by the rape charges.

“We were stunned," Schafer said Aug. 21. “Just stunned.”

Following the initial reports of Drew's removal from ministry, Bishop Binzer resigned from the USCCB’s committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops’ conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer was removed from some of his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and could face an internal Church investigation for his handling of the allegations.

 

Christian filmmakers win right to sue against Minnesota human rights law

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A federal court has reversed a decision dismissing a lawsuit brought against the Minnesota Human Rights Act. In a decision issued Friday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated claims that the law violates free speech and freedom of religion in a case brought by two Christian filmmakers who refused to make same-sex wedding videos.

The case was brought by Carl and Angel Larsen, the owners Telescope Media Group, both of whom are devout Christians. The Larsen’s intended to expand their business by filming weddings, but were told by state officials that if they produced films celebrating marriages in accord with their own beliefs, they would also have to create films promoting same-sex marriage.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Larsens, called the decision a “significant win.”

“The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs. Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages,” Tedesco said in a statement.

“All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”

The initial suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and appealed to the 8th Circuit in October, 2018. The Larson’s told the court that they “gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.” 

Because they are Christians, the Larsons said they only decline requests for their services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including any that, in their view, “promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman.”

The 2018 Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits vendors from “to intentionally refusing to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s . . . sexual orientation.”

According to the state’s argument, the law regulates the Larsen’s business conduct and not their speech, and they would need to make both traditional marriage and same-sex wedding films, or none at all in order to comply, otherwise they could face tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and up to 90 days in jail.

In the decision published Aug. 23, the 8th Circuit held that the First Amendment prevented the Larsons from being compelled to “mouth support for views they find objectionable,” and that their film productions are a form of free speech protected by the Bill of Rights, saying that “the videos they do wish to produce will convey a message designed to affect public attitudes and behavior.” 

The judges also cited the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Christian baker refused to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

“If Minnesota were correct,” the judges wrote, “it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service.” 

The decision orders the District Court to review the case again, and to consider if the Larson’s case merits a preliminary injunction against the state law.

Arizona bishops welcome tuition break for undocumented students

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 15:00

Albuquerque, N.M., Aug 23, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Arizona’s Catholic bishops issued a statement Thursday in support of a change in policy that will offer a discounted college tuition rate to resident high school students who are undocumented immigrants. 

“We are glad that these undocumented students, who were brought here through no fault of their own, will now have more opportunities to better their lives after they graduate from our high schools and eventually become productive members of our society,” said the statement, which was co-signed by the state’s four bishops. 

The new policy, announced Aug. 22, sets the state college tuition rate for non-legal resident students at $16,000, which is $5,000 more than the in-state rate for legal Arizona residents. The tuition rate for out-of-state students is $30,000. Previously, undocumented students had to pay the out-of-state rate. 

“Today's action allows these students, as well as other Arizona high school graduates who have left the state, to join immigrant students who are in the DACA program and pay a much lower tuition rate that reflects the actual costs at our public universities,” the bishops said. 

Several states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduated from a high school in the state. 

The announcement came on the same day that Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued a statement condemning a newly-published Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security rule that concerns the care and custody of immigrant children. 

That new rule allows for families, including minors, to be detained for longer than the previous 20-day limit allowed under the Flores settlement. 

Vasquez said the rule is “unlawful and inhumane” and will harm “countless children.” 

“This rule will have heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children – those whom Pope Francis has deemed ‘the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” said Vásquez in the statement, which was published on the USCCB’s website. 

“It is an attempt by the [Trump] Administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children. This rule will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention.”

The new rule will take effect 60 days after its publication.

Children before politics say parents as Catholic adoption agency heads to court

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 19:30

Lansing, Mich., Aug 22, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Parents of five adoptive children were present in court on Thursday in support of a Catholic adoption agency in Michigan that is threatened with closure by a new state policy.

“Political grandstanding should never come at the expense of vulnerable children,” stated Melissa Buck, who with her husband Chad has adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan.

Buck was speaking out against a new state requirement that adoption agencies match children with same-sex couples—regardless of the agencies’ religious mission—in order to receive state funding.

“No one has ever been kept from adopting or fostering a child in need because of St. Vincent’s religious beliefs,” Buck stated on Aug. 22 after oral arguments in Buck v. Gordon, the challenge to Michigan’s new policy, at the Western District Court of Michigan in Grand Rapids.

Kristy and Dana Dumont, a same-sex couple seeking to adopt a child out of foster care, said they were referred elsewhere by St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services in 2016 and 2017 when they tried to adopt children through them. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the two organizations on their behalf.

St. Vincent is one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the agency.

The State’s health department opened investigations into the complaints. Then on March 22, 2019, the state’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Nessel, a self-identified lesbian, once represented a same-sex couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse in their fight to marry and adopt children; the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court as part of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that mandated the legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages nationwide.

The settlement reversed a 2015 state law that protected religious-based adoption agencies from having to match children with same-sex couples if they were morally opposed to doing so.

Becket filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work—Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

After oral arguments on Thursday, Buck shared her personal story of working with St. Vincent to adopt five children with special needs.

“It’s the best and the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and there were challenges that we weren’t equipped to face on our own—but we were never alone. St. Vincent was there for us every step of the way, at all hours of the day or night, for anything we needed, even if it was for just a shoulder to cry on,” Buck said.

“We chose to foster and adopt through St. Vincent because the faith and values that motivate their ministry make them the very best at what they do, particularly finding homes for the children who need it most.”

There are currently more than 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and more than 600 children “age out” of the foster care system each year without having been adopted.

Becket said that in 2017, St. Vincent “recruited more adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its service area.”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, wrote in an op-ed for The Detroit News that “already, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Buffalo, and the state of Illinois have forced faith-based adoption agencies to close, and several more agencies are entangled in court battles, all amid a nationwide adoption and foster care crisis.”

“That crisis is only growing worse as with children flooding into the system, their lives the collateral damage of an opioid epidemic,” Windham wrote.

Bishops praise proposal to clarify religious exemptions for federal contractors

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 18:15

Washington D.C., Aug 22, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference have praised a U.S. Labor Department proposal to clarify protections for religious employers seeking federal contracts.

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services,” said the heads of three committees for the U.S. bishops.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, FL, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, signed an Aug. 21 statement about the proposed changes.

“These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs],” they said.

The Labor Department announced the proposed rule changes Aug. 15 in the federal register and asked for public comment.

Under existing law, religious nonprofit organizations that enter into contracts with the federal government are exempt from the requirement that federal contractors not discriminate on the basis of religion in employment decisions.

The Labor Department wrote that some organizations, including for-profit companies that have a religious mission, have provided feedback saying they are reluctant to participate as federal contractors because of uncertainty regarding the scope of existing religious exemptions.

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Trinity Lutheran, the department proposed to clarify that the religious exemption “allows religious contractors not only to prefer in employment individuals who share their religion, but also to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.”

Among other changes, the department wrote, the proposal is intended to make clear that the existing religious exemption covers not just churches, but also employers that are “organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.”

It is also intended, the department said, to make clear that religious employers can “condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases such as race, sex, or national origin. Companies will also still be bound by the state laws of the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Secular groups such as Lambda Legal reacted to the proposed changes with concern, fearing that the rules would allow companies to “opt-out” of civil rights laws and discriminate against religious minorities and the LGBT community.

But Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund, told The Washington Post that the new rules give religious groups greater clarity on what exemptions they can legally seek in their hiring practices after the Obama administration expanded protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“When a religious group says ‘Hey, we need you to be a Christian and adhere to Christian teachings,' federal law has recognized that’s not discrimination,” he said.

Ex-Philly pastor arrested for charges of embezzling roughly $100,000 of church funds

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:50

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 22, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- A priest in Downingtown, Penn., a suburb west of Philadelphia, was arrested yesterday for stealing roughly $100,000 in church funds over six years to fund his New Jersey beach house and sexual encounters with men among other personal expenses, authorities have reported.

Rev. Joseph McLoone, 56, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Downingtown and placed on administrative leave in early 2018, shortly after his secret account of stolen funds, which he had named the “St. Joseph Activity Account”, was discovered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard Archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was then undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support,” the statement added.

According to the Reading Eagle, investigators reported after a year-long investigation that McLoone used his secret account to siphon off the entire collection taken up at the parish each year on the feast day of All Soul’s Day in November, for a total of $39,543 over six years.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the rest of the money came from McLoone doubling his stipends for weddings, funerals and other special Masses. Authorities report that he spent at least $3,000 of the money on men with whom he had sexual relationships, including one New York prison inmate.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represented a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the Archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the Saint Joseph Parish community,” the archdiocesen statement noted.

McLoone made “regular withdrawals” from the account and spent “thousands” of dollars in New Jersey, where he has a beach house, the Eagle Reader reported.

Money from regular Sunday collections, donations to the parish capital campaign, and school and PREP tuition fees do not seem to have been stolen by McLoone, the archdiocese said.

In total, McLoone is charged with embezzling between $98,000-$125,000 in funds from the parish during his time there.

“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement, reported by the Inquirer. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”

The charges against McLoone include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and other related counts, the Reading Eagle reported.

The priest maintains his innocence.

“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” Melissa McCafferty, McLoone’s attorney, told the Inquirer. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”

McLoone was sent to the parish in 2011 after the previous pastor, Msgr. William Lynn, was convicted of covering up clerical sex abuse in 2012. Lynn’s conviction was overturned three years ago, and he is awaiting a retrial.

The archdiocese said it has pledged to “pursue full financial restitution” to the parish for the reportedly stolen funds, and said that it shared this information along with other updates on the case throughout the past year with the parish during the investigation.

“These charges are serious and disturbing,” the archdiocesan statement said. “The Archdiocese and the parish will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the criminal matter enters its next phase. Pending the outcome, Monsignor McLoone remains on administrative leave. Information regarding his arrest will be shared with the Saint Joseph Parish community.”

McLoone now awaits a hearing before a district court judge for the charges.

In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:01

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

White House criticized for push to allow indefinite detention of migrant kids

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 19:49

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- The White House announced on Wednesday that it would look to terminate court-approved limits on detention of migrant children and families, allowing for indefinite detention. The announcement drew strong criticism from a leading Catholic immigration group.

“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

Gallagher added that the action “would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts.”

The White House’s new rule will seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a court-approved national policy on the treatment of migrants by U.S. government agencies. The new rule must be approved by a federal judge before it can go into effect.

“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” President Donald Trump stated.

Under previous court rulings, the administration said it had to allow most migrant children and families to leave detention centers after 20 days; a new proposed rule, the “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” would remove time limits and allow for indefinite detention.

The rule would ensure the care and safety of children in detention and protect them from smugglers, the White House said in its announcement; smugglers have been taking advantage of the previous policy by promising migrants a quick release if they were to be apprehended by U.S. law enforcement, and by bringing children and adults together to pose as migrant families at the border, the White House said.

In a press conference, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that the facilities holding families under the new rule are “campus-like settings with appropriate medical, educational, recreational, dining, and private housing facilities.”

However, CLINIC, established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, called the administration’s proposal last September an “abomination.”

Gallagher said on Wednesday that “clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.” The organization has also said that the administration’s policy would allow it to set the conditions for migrants in detention centers with lesser independent oversight, threatening the due process of migrants.

In June of 2018, a group of human rights officials at the United Nations stated of the U.S. policy of detaining children and separating families at the border that “detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

The number of “family unit aliens” apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in Fiscal Year 2019, the White House says, increasing by more than 300 percent; more than 430,000 “family unit aliens” have been apprehended in FY 2019.

'Fertility fraud' scandals raise broader questions about IVF, ethicist says

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in three states have passed laws to criminalize “fertility fraud” following a series of scandals in which fertility doctors impregnated women with their own sperm without their knowledge or consent. But amid renewed discussion of the fertility industry, one ethicist told CNA that the laws do not go far enough.

On June 4, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1259, making the use of reproductive material from an unagreed upon donor a form of sexual assault, and could require an offending doctor to register as a sex offender. The bill was unanimously passed by both the Texas House and Senate, and went into effect on July 1. 

The Texas law is unique in classifing donor-deception as sexual assault. 

Legislation in Indiana, passed in May of this year, made it a felony for someone to misrepresent a medical procedure, device, or drug, including reproductive material. A plaintiff may also sue the medical professional for damages. Similar laws were passed in California in 2011.

The Indiana law passed after it was discovered that a fertility specialist, Dr. Donald Cline, had used his own sperm to father at least 61 children in the 1970s and 1980s. The estimated 36 mothers were unaware that he was the source of the donor sperm.

In 2017, eight years after he retired, Cline was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence, and surrendered his medical license. He pled guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice, though his professional conduct was not yet a crime in Indiana. 

Cline’s case is not unique. Doctors in 12 states and several countries have been found to have fathered children with women who did not consent to being inseminated with their own doctor’s sperm. 

Dr. John Di Camillo, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that scandals only served to highlight the deeper problems with the fertility industry.

“Interventions that bypass or replace the conjugal act, on the other hand, such as in vitro fertilization, are always contrary to human dignity,” Di Camillo said.

While it is understandable that a woman or couple would feel violated by a doctor’s betrayal of their trust in the selection of the sperm donor, Di Camillo told CNA that “the very act of seeking a sperm donor is already a betrayal of any child that might be conceived.”

The child has the right to be born from and within a marriage, where the child’s biological parents are identifiable,” he said.

Such cases of abuse, he said, were rooted in society’s changing views on the nature of childbearing, as well as from the “morally corrupt” practice of in vitro fertilization. 

“When a child is no longer understood as a gift that a married couple receives as the direct fruit of their act of mutual self-giving love, and is instead perceived as a product that can be obtained human procreation becomes exposed to an endless chain of ethical abuses,” he said.

While the fertility industry continues to grow, the availability of commercial DNA testing has meant many previously unknown cases of abuse have come to light.

Sixteen years ago in Texas, Eve Wiley discovered, at the age of 16, that she had been conceived with donor sperm. She tracked down the man who she thought was the donor, and developed what she described as a “beautiful father-daughter relationship.” The man even officiated her wedding. 

After taking a consumer DNA test in 2017 and again in 2018, she learned the truth: the man was not her father. In fact, her father was Dr. Kim McMorries-the doctor who had inseminated her mother. 

McMorries had told Wiley’s mother that he was using donor sperm from California. Her mother had requested a donor from far away, as she was concerned that her potential child could eventually date a half-sibling if a local donor were used. 

Wiley has since been featured on national television programs, and spoke in committee hearings in favor of the Texas law. 

While Di Camillo is supportive of the Indiana and Texas laws, he told CNA that they do not do enough to address the source of the problem: the fertility industry. 

“I would certainly support any legislation outlawing this type of deception as a form of incremental legislation curbing abusive sequelae of the abusive practice of IVF,” he said. 

“The bigger issue is that in vitro fertilization and all forms of assisted reproduction involving donor gametes should be outlawed altogether. The root of the moral problem needs to be addressed.”

Florida bishops: Serial killer's execution is 'unnecessary'

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:30

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleading for Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the execution of Gary Ray Bowles, who confessed to murdering six men during a six month period in 1994.

“As we approach the date of Gary Ray Bowles’ scheduled execution, we urge you to grant a stay,” said an Aug. 14 letter, signed by Michael B. Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state’s bishops.

Bowles’ execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 22. He was first sentenced to death in May 1996, after pleading guilty to the murder of Walter “Jay” Hinton, and then re-sentenced to death in 1999 after his initial death sentence was overturned. While in prison for Hinton’s murder, he was convicted of three other murders, and sentenced to two life sentences.

When Bowles was arrested for Hinton’s death, he admitted that he had killed a total of six people. As Bowles’ crime spree spread from Jacksonville, Florida to Montgomery County, Maryland, he was dubbed the “I-95 Killer.”

He killed men in three states, two of which presently use the death penalty. At the time of the crimes, the death penalty was legal in all three states.

Bowles met most of his victims in gay bars, and offered to have sex with them in exchange for money. He would then beat and strangle the men to death, and rob them. At the time he was arrested, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

The letter said that while Bowles’ “violent actions” ended the lives of six people, and caused “great grief” to their loved ones, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.”

“Mr. Bowles is more than a man who committed multiple murders,” said the bishops’ conference.

“He is a human being who survived many years of childhood abuse and, after escaping his stepfather’s violence as a young teenager, endured years of homelessness and child prostitution.”

“Neuroscientific research has found that such traumatic experiences severely affect a child’s developing brain, and thus affect subsequent behavior,” the letter added.

The bishops’ conference wrote that Bowles does not pose a danger to society as long as he remains in prison without parole, and that the death penalty is not necessary. Instead, “premeditated, state-sanctioned homicide of Mr. Bowles would only perpetuate the cycle of violence that victimized him, and which he later perpetuated.”

“Killing him will only further erode the sense of the sacredness of human life and implicate us all – the citizens of the State of Florida – in his death.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Florida Catholics, as well as others opposed to the death penalty, will be gathering at locations around the state, including the governor’s mansion and across the highway from the Florida State Prison’s Execution Building. They say they will be praying for  Bowles, his victims, the families of the victims, and for an end to the death penalty.

If Bowles is executed, he will be the 99th person sentenced to death in Florida since the state reinstituted its death penalty in 1976. His will be the second execution presided over by DeSantis, a practicing Roman Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is today “inadmissable,” because “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” and “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Minnesota archbishop reflects on the significance of a pastoral heart

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 06:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul and Minneapolis reflected in a recent interview on several major milestones: his 60th birthday, 30 years as a priest, and 10 years as a bishop.

In an interview with the Catholic Spirit, the archbishop emphasized the importance of a pastoral heart in the priestly vocation.

“Being a pastor of a diocese is a little bit like being a pastor of a parish. It’s the same desires that you have for being able to make Christ known, being able to serve people, being able to bring the presence of Christ not only through the sacraments but also through God’s word,” he said.

The archbishop celebrated Mass on July 1 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in honor of the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Hebda will also commemorate his 60th birthday on September 3, and 10 years of being a bishop on December 1.

Born in Pittsburgh, Hebda entered Saint Paul Seminary after he graduated from Harvard and received his JD from Columbia Law School. He was ordained in 1989 and, seven years later, he began his role at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, where he served until he was appointed bishop in 2009.

He said it was initially tough to leave behind a college ministry, where he had been placed as Director of the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University two years prior to his assignment in Rome. However, he said a priest must have a pastoral heart no matter the assignment.

“A priest has to bring a pastoral heart to whatever task is before him. Even if it’s an administrative position, he has to bring to that a pastoral heart,” he said.

“I came to recognize, though, that it was in the work that I was doing (at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, responsible for interpreting Church law), even though it was very technical, legal work, that I was being given an opportunity to really participate in Christ’s priesthood.”

In any vocation, he said, the most important thing is to place God above all else. He said this fosters acts of service for others.

“I think [God] wants us to put him first in our lives. We love God and we love our neighbor. It’s a way in which we’re also going to have our hearts expanded so that we can serve others, too,” he said.

The archbishop has led Minnesota’s largest archdiocese through a turbulent period. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse.

He is also leading the archdiocese toward a 2021 synod to address pastoral concerns and discern the call of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the synod, the archdiocese will have 20 prayer events and spiritual talks. The first one will kick off on September 24. Hebda expressed hope that the process will lead the archdiocese to a richer connection to the Holy Spirit.

“My hope is that we might, together, be able to detect the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we would find reassurance in that. We would be reinvigorated by that realization, as well,” he said.

“I also am trusting that the process will help us to identify priorities for moving forward in a way that’s reflective not only of my own thinking but also the thinking of the faithful of the archdiocese, whether it be our priests, whether it be our lay faithful, whether it be men and women in consecrated life, it will all have a chance to shape the next steps we take as an archdiocese.”

Archdiocese to break ground for Bl. Stanley Rother shrine in November 

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 02:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 21, 2019 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The shy and unassuming Blessed Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest and martyr from a farming family, would likely be surprised to learn that the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma will bear his name.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that it will be breaking ground for the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine in November. The $40 million shrine will seat 2,000 and be the largest Catholic church in the state once it is complete.

The project is the “signature element” of the archdiocese’s first-ever capital campaign, the archdiocese told Oklahoma News 4.

Besides the main church, the shrine site will include a prayer chapel devoted to Bl. Stanley Rother, where he will be buried, religious education and ministry classrooms, and a museum and pilgrim center with artifacts and stories about Rother’s life.

“Padre Francisco”, as Rother was affectionately called at the mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where he served, was shot and killed by masked gunman early in the morning on July 28, 1981, in the midst of the country’s civil war. Rother had refused to call for help, not wanting to endanger anyone else at the mission.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Rother was beatified at a Mass in Oklahoma City.

“The groundbreaking for the shrine will be a significant moment in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and for the broader community,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told News 4.

“The shrine is being built to honor Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma original and the first U.S.-born priest and martyr ever beatified. It will be a place of pilgrimage where the faithful will come from near and far to honor Blessed Stanley at his final resting place and to seek his intercession for their many needs. It will be a place of welcome, serving all people.”

The groundbreaking for the shrine is set to take place at 3 p.m. on November 3 in Oklahoma City.

 

 

CEOs promise people before profits in new statement on 'Purpose of a Corporation'

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 18:00

New York City, N.Y., Aug 20, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A new commitment by business leaders to move past pure profit, and commit to employees, communities, and the environment, echoes what the Church has been teaching about business for years, a Catholic scholar has said.

On Monday, chief executives on the Business Roundtable—181 CEOs of corporations like Apple, Amazon, Wal Mart, banks and other businesses from various industries—issued a new joint Statement on the “Purpose of a Corporation.”

The updated statement alters more than 20 years of policy that previously held that the primary duty of a company is to provide profit for its shareholders. The Business Roundtable has issued regular statements on corporate governance since 1978, and in 1997 stated that “the principal objective of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners.”

Now, the roundtable lists several other commitments of business leaders in addition to shareholder profit, including investing in employees through training programs, dealing ethically and fairly with suppliers, and caring for the environment and for local communities.

“I think it’s a really good move,” Professor Andrew Abela, Dean of the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, told CNA.

“Church teaching has been, I think, some of the most sensible teaching on the role of a business anywhere,” he said, to “make a profit as well as to serve society.”

The statement reflects those principles, Abela said.

“It’s something that the Church has been saying for decades,” Abela said, noting that the new announcement is not an “about-face” on the priorities of corporations, but is rather “an expansion of the understanding of the purpose of the firm.”

The statement will need to be put into action to be effective, but it gives “cover” to any business owner who claims that a company has duties to employees and local communities along with shareholders, Abela said.

A Vatican document from May of 2018 explained the role of shareholders in ethical business dealings. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its “Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system,” saying that a business operates as “a true intermediate social body” within a “social fabric.”

When a business pursues profit at all costs, the document said, “every ethical claim is really perceived as irrelevant.”

This mindset leads to the promotion of “greedy and unscrupulous” executives, the document states. Furthermore, primacy is then given to shareholder profit and not to the well-being of employees, consumers and stakeholders, producing “a profoundly amoral culture—in which one often does not hesitate to commit a crime when the foreseen benefits exceed the expected penalty.”

What the Church teaches is not a set of rules for business but “a way of life,” Abela said.  “Running a corporation well” involves various duties both “effective” and “ethical,” he said, including “taking care of your employees, taking care of your customers, taking care of the communities in which the corporation works.”

Shareholders “are the owners of the corporation” and have property rights, he said, but other duties must be looked to as well. “And if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be long-term successful as a corporation, as a business.”

The Church teaches private property rights in conjunction with the “universal destination of goods,” Abela said, “the idea that the goods of this world are for the good of all.”

“What that means is if you own property, you ought to use that property to serve others,” he said.

A New York Times article on the statement noted that it did not address the pay of executives being tens or even hundreds of times greater than lower-level employees.

“It’s a controversial issue,” Abela acknowledged, saying that unjust pay is wrong and that executives should not be paid exorbitant salaries if a company is performing poorly.

However, he said, “if a firm is doing well and paying its employees fairly, and making tons of money for its investors, then I don’t think anyone should put any limits on how much the CEO is being paid. It’s a rare skill to run a large corporation, a large complex corporation, especially in this litigious age.”

Four more abuse allegations against former Cheyenne bishop

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 14:16

Cheyenne, Wyo., Aug 20, 2019 / 12:16 pm (CNA).- Four new sex abuse allegations have been raised against Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart, spanning his time both as a priest in Missouri and a bishop in Wyoming.

Jack Smith, a spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said the allegations were brought forward by either the alleged victims or their family members, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

He said the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph “has turned over all information we have about allegations pertaining to Bishop Hart to the Diocese of Cheyenne, which I understand they have shared with local law enforcement in Cheyenne.”

More than a dozen total accusations of sexual abuse have been raised against the former bishop. The new allegations come from his time in both Cheyenne and Kansas City-St. Joseph, although all of the alleged victims were Missouri residents.

Hart has been accused in lawsuits of taking minors on trips and giving them alcohol and marijuana, then abusing them.

Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who has represented some of the individuals accusing Hart of abuse, said the bishop would party with two other priests in Kansas City who have also been accused of sexual abuse.

Police in Wyoming last week recommended that two clerics accused of sexually abusing male juveniles in the 1970s and '80s be criminally charged, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The clerics were unnamed in the report.

A press release from the police said its investigation “stems from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018,” the Casper daily reported Aug. 14.

In July 2018 the Diocese of Cheyenne announced that Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became Bishop of Cheyenne in 1976, following an investigation of charges ordered by its current bishop.

In 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy, both during sacramental confession and on outings. The alleged abuse took place after Hart had become a bishop.

The Natrona County district attorney in 2002 had put forward a report saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that originated in Wyoming.

The Cheyenne diocese said in July 2018 that it “now questions that conclusion.”

According to the diocese, Bishop Steven Biegler, the present ordinary, had ordered a “fresh, thorough investigation” because the claims against Hart had not been resolved.

In December 2017, the bishop retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.

The diocesan review board, after reviewing the report, concurred with the investigator, finding the allegations “credible and substantiated.” The diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne district attorney in March 2018, and Cheyenne police opened an investigation.

The diocese said it reported the allegations of abuse as required by its own policy, the national Catholic Church policy, and Wyoming law.

In August 2018, the diocese announced it had found credible a third allegation of child sexual abuse committed by Bishop Hart.

“A third individual reported that he, too, was sexually abused by Bishop Hart in 1980,” the diocese said. This third person reported the abuse after the diocese's announcement there was “credible and substantiated” evidence that Bishop Hart had abused two Wyoming boys.

This third allegation was also reported to the Cheyenne Police Department.

Bishop Hart has denied accusations of abusing minors.

His first accusers came forward in 1989, when he was alleged to have abused boys while serving as a priest in Kansas City. Ten individuals named Hart in lawsuits related to child sexual abuse claims dating from the 1970s. These accusations were part of settlements the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph reached in 2008 and 2014, though Bishop Hart denied the accusations, the Missouri diocese said July 2.

Bishop Hart was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976, and appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.

In June the Cheyenne diocese released a list of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against minors or vulnerable adults. The release listed allegations against 11 clerics who had served in the diocese.

Charleston bishop stepping back to fight accusation

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:30

Charleston, S.C., Aug 20, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The bishop of Charleston, South Carolina announced he will reduce his public appearances after being named in a lawsuit filed in New York. Bishop Robert Guglielmone announced that he is stepping back from visible leadership of the diocese as he defends himself against an accusation of sexual abuse.

In a letter to the faithful of the diocese, dated Friday and intended for distribution to parishes ahead of Sunday Masses, Guglielmone insisted that he was wholly innocent of the accusation made against him and would fight to clear his name.

“As you know, a lawsuit has been filed against me alleging that I have committed a grievous act,” said the bishop in the Aug. 16 letter. 

“This false accusation against me has no merit whatsoever; I have vigorously defended myself and will continue to do so.” 

Guglielmone has repeatedly stated that the accusations are false and is said to be cooperating fully with a Church investigation. As this process continues, he said, his concern is that continuing in a visible role in the diocese would be a “distraction” from other diocesan priorities and he will “temporarily reduce” his public presence for the foreseeable future. 

“I do not want to distract the focus from the important ministries of the Church in South Carolina–including creating safe environments for our children,” he said.

In the letter, Guglielmone reiterated that all child abuse is “despicable.”

The suit against Guglielmone was filed on August 14, the first day of a one-year period where abuse survivors may file claims against their abusers or the institutions which shielded their abusers, regardless of the statute of limitations. 

This one-year period was created by the passage of the Child Victims Act, which changed New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. 

The suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville, starting in 1978. 

The Diocese of Charleston said that, when first made, the accusation was initially determined not to be credible, though civil law enforcement was notified of the claims. Following the re-presentation of the allegation, the Vatican was informed and has initiated a full investigation, with which Guglielmone is said to be “cooperating fully.”

It is not clear when the allegations were first made, and the diocese has not confirmed who is conducting the investigation.

Both the vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston have released a statement of support for the bishop, calling him “a trusted leader of our diocese for more than ten years.”

Msgr. Richard Harris and Msgr. Anthony Droze both said that they had “utmost faith in [Guglielmone’s] truthfulness and in his innocence.”

Guglielmone has been the Bishop of Charleston since 2009.

Title X: Protect Life Rule comes in as Planned Parenthood walks out

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Aug 19, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood will no longer receive Title X funds and has withdrawn from the program entirely. The decision took effect Monday, as the deadline passed for compliance with new program rules.

The organization, the nation’s largest chain of abortion providers, confirmed their withdrawal from Title X after a court refused to grant an emergency injunction against the Protect Life Rule, which bars fund recipients from referring women for abortions, prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics, and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

August 19 was the last day for the group to file a “good faith” undertaking to comply with the new rule.

The decision means Planned Parenthood will lose about $60 million in federal funding, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, and approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

The organization’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said Monday that “The Trump administration has forced Planned Parenthood grantees out of Title X.” Johnson had previously called the Protect Life Rule an attempt by the president to “bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a previous statement, issued last week, that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

On Monday, Doreen Denny, Senior Director of Government Relations at Concerned Women for America, said it was “a day of reckoning” for the abortion provider.

“Planned Parenthood has no entitlement to federal funding, and they apparently have no plans to comply with federal rules either,” Denny said. “For years, Planned Parenthood has skirted federal law to promote its abortion business on the backs of the American taxpayer. 

“If Planned Parenthood truly cared about promoting health, it would stop peddling abortion and start supporting women. Planned Parenthood’s threat to withdraw from the Title X program proves one thing: health care is not their primary business; abortion is,” said Denny.

The abortion provider’s departure from the program altogether is a change from their initial response to the rule. Previously, the organization had intended to remain in the program, but refuse funding. HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called this arrangement “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Aug. 8, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Despite operating less than 10% of the Title X fund recipient clinics, Planned Parenthood received about 15% of the country’s total Title X funds. 

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

After protest, Buffalo diocese denies allegations of former seminarian

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 18:30

Buffalo, N.Y., Aug 19, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Amid a media firestorm and a small protest Sunday, the Diocese of Buffalo disputed allegations made in a letter published by a recently resigned seminarian.

“Earlier today, while many Catholics were attending Sunday Mass, three individuals chose to gather in front of St. Stanislaus Church and Bishop Malone’s residence. These individuals were within their rights, and displayed various poster signs. The Diocese of Buffalo, has responded to these topics previously and it is unfortunate that some have not received or understood the responses,“ the diocese said in an Aug. 18 statement.

The protest staged Sunday, according to local media reports, was attended by three people, one of whom is recently resigned Buffalo seminarian Stephen Parisi, who made headlines last week, when he published a six-page open letter, addressed to Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone, calling for the bishop’s resignation and accusing him of multiple offenses, which included allowing a priest to violate the seal of confession without consequence.

Malone was accused Aug. 6 by Marie Bojanowski, the mother of a Buffalo seminarian, of allowing a priest, Rev. Jeffrey Nowak, to remain in ministry despite allegations that he had violated the sacramental seal, groomed and sexually harassed her son, and abused minors.

A letter from seminarian Matthew Bojanowski to Malone, dated Jan. 24, 2019, is posted on the website of Buffalo television station WKBW. The letter details Bojanowski’s allegations of harassment, and indicates that Nowak disclosed that he had been accused of “inappropropriate actions,” with minors.

The Diocese of Buffalo removed the priest from ministry Aug. 7, and denied reports that Malone had covered up allegations of misconduct against the priest.

The diocese emphasized its response in its Aug. 18 statement.

“Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry. He has stated it is his responsibility to lead the Diocese of Buffalo and he will continue to do so by continuing to offer opportunities to bring healing to victim-survivors of abuse and renewed trust to the people of the Diocese,” the diocese said.

“There has never been an accusation that Bishop Malone violated the seal of the confessional. Mr. Parisi and others make the outrageous and unsupported claim that Bishop Malone has not honored the seal and ignored a complaint that Fr. Jeffrey Nowak violated the seal of the confessional. Bishop Malone has never ignored this complaint.”

“To the contrary, Bishop Malone has initiated an investigation of the complaint. When the individual who made the complaint was first questioned, his response was vague and needed follow up. Fr. Nowak has been removed from ministry while the investigation continues,” the diocese said.

“The Office of Professional Responsibility has tried to contact the individual making this complaint but he has yet to respond. The Diocese will continue to pursue this claim and take additional action if necessary,” the statement added.

The diocese did not respond to all the complaints made by Parisi, which painted the picture of a seminary in chaos. The former seminarian alleged that seminary formators used information gained in the confessional to "blackmail seminarians," made lewd remarks in class, and encouraged seminarians to "shoot or break the kneecaps of protestors and/or the press."

The diocesan statement responding to his letter said that “Mr. Parisi was under investigation for academic dishonesty at Christ the King Seminary and his departure hinders any further inquiry.”

In his Aug. 15 letter, Parisi wrote that he did not plagiarize, only that after reviewing a fellow student’s paper in a “non-credit pre-theology class,” he “used the same quotes, in the same order but used my own thoughts and words to explain the quotes.”

Explaining that his parents are ill and that he had been struggling in the seminary, Parisi added that “I rushed to complete this paper and unfortunately, I forgot to put the opening summary in my own words. This was my fault, and I accept full responsibility for this error.” Parisi wrote in his letter that he had been for 24 years a consecrated religious brother in the Diocese of Buffalo. The seminarian was a member of the Brothers of Mercy, in which he was known as Br. Gabriel-Joseph Parisi.

Regarding academics, the former seminarian also exhorted the diocese to “STOP assigning pointless and tedious papers that do not help students comprehend class material and then not return work with valuable feedback,” to “STOP sending seminarians on summer assignments only to perform menial tasks instead of learning pastoral skills,” and to “STOP assigning endless papers, so much so that spiritual and human needs are neglected.”

The former seminarian urged other seminarians to contact law enforcement and the media if they encountered “inhumane, harassing or illegal behavior” at the seminary.

“I close by thanking Bishop Malone and the formation team for my time at Christ the King. The most valuable lessons I have learned at the seminary have not included how to properly write a paper, or even how to nurture a personal prayer life. By observing the behavior of most (not all) priests on the formation staff, I have learned how not to treat people,” Parisi wrote.

“Bishop Malone, for the love of God and for the sake of the faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo, please step down!”
 
Malone has come under fire in the last year, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has faced persistent calls for his resignation.

In April, Malone removed from ministry three priests who seminarians say engaged in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory. One of the priests temporarily removed from ministry was a formator at the seminary.

Also in April, Malone issued a statement defending himself against allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups.

The bishop said that he had not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, and that he intended to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, especially with his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors, the bishop offered an apology.

“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said April 11.

“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”

 

Planned Parenthood whistleblower awarded $3 million

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 18:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 19, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- An Arizona court awarded a former Planned Parenthood clinic director $3 million in damages in a wrongful termination case, on Friday. Mayra Rodriguez claimed she was unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about ethical and legal breaches at abortion facilities run by the group.

In a decision rendered Aug. 16 at Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Pamela Gates found in favor of Rodriguez, who worked for Planned Parenthood of Arizona for 17 years.

During her time with the country’s largest abortion provider, Rodriguez claims that she witnessed physician malpractice, illegal conduct of a doctor, falsification of affidavits and patient records, and failure to report a minor who had an adult partner. Following her complaints, she was terminated from her position in October of 2017, at which time she filed suit.

“I feel very, very happy, very, very blessed. It has been a very hard two years since we started this process,” said Mayra Rodriguez, former director of three Planned Parenthood clinics in Arizona, in an interview with CNA on Monday.  

After managing a Title X location—where she said no abortions were performed—Rodriguez went on to managed three clinics, including one in Glendale which was one of the biggest abortion facilities in the area when she took it over in November of 2016.

There Rodriguez saw some “eye-opening” concerns, including higher complication rates from one abortionist who was also not properly charting the information of patients.

She also flagged to superiors that a minor with an adult sexual partner was not reported on their first day of contact with Planned Parenthood, as mandated by law and the organization’s own policy, and that affidavits and patient records had been falsified.

However, the organization did not act on her complaints. “And that didn’t happen because the person I was referring to was a powerful person,” Rodriguez said. “My motivation has always been to care for women, to help, that they are being taken care of, that they received the compassionate and high-quality care.”

“And so obviously, when I saw that was not happening, I was very concerned,” she said.

After she began voicing her concerns, she noticed that her superiors “were giving me a really hard time about common, normal daily stuff from other clinics.”

Then, she was told that narcotics had been found at her desk—on a week that she had not been working there, she said—and she was fired. “I tried to explain myself, but the decision had been made,” she told CNA.

Rodriguez decided to proceed with a wrongful termination lawsuit to clear her name, beginning an almost two-year legal battle.

“It has been a very rough two years. A lot of deception, and a lot of pain,” Rodriguez told CNA. “I lost a lot of friends throughout these two years, especially since I lost my job. People just stopped talking to me the moment they hear I submitted a lawsuit. Some of them still work there, so I understand. But there were others, formerly that used to work there, and ‘oh, I don’t want to be involved.’”

“It hurts, because there were some moments where you feel like you’re standing there alone,” she said.

Her undocumented immigrant status surfaced in court, with Planned Parenthood using it against her to discredit her as a “liar.”

“I never thought that would come through from an organization that stands for immigrant rights, but it did,” she said. “My kids were there, and it hurts. You don’t know that it’s like until you’re in the position we are.”

“When you’re called a liar for finding work to provide for your family, it’s hard,” she told CNA. Rodriguez said “some of them knew” at Planned Parenthood about her immigration status, although “they denied knowing.”

During the court process, Rodriguez said a mutual friend encouraged her to reach out to Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the abortion industry and eventually founded the ministry And Then There Were None to help hundreds of abortion clinic workers also leave the industry. The film “Unplanned” that was released in theatres this year tells Johnson’s story.

Rodriguez  noticed that she shared some similarities with Johnson’s story—"we were kind of the stars of the organization, and then all of a sudden we just dropped to being the bad kids.”

Then on Friday, Rodriguez’s court battle came to an end—she was awarded $3 million in damages by a jury in a Maricopa County Court.

“There’s no words to describe” the faces of the jurors, Rodriguez said, ”the sympathy they had on their face at that moment, knowing what I had gone through and what they had seen—the sympathy.”

Johnson stated her solidarity with Rodriguez following Friday’s decision.

“When Mayra came to And Then There Were None with her incredible story, I felt solidarity with her, having gone through a similar situation when I worked for Planned Parenthood,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Standing with her through the trial and rejoicing in the ultimate victory has been amazing.”

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